New Flash-Memory Controller to improve security, safety and reliability

01 Sep 2020

PENTA Project XSR-FMC will develop a new flash memory controller platform that will improve flash memory storage systems’ security, safety and reliability. Furthermore, these controllers will significantly reduce energy consumption, contributing to greater sustainability.

Electronic devices require an increasing amount of storage as distributed intelligence spreads. These storage devices control sensitive and vulnerable social investments and infrastructure, making security an increasing concern as these devices become exposed to failure and hacking. Unfortunately, emerging Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Industry 4.0 (part of the fourth industrial revolution which deploys digital technologies to produce higher-quality goods at reduced costs), automotive and many other sensitive applications and industries are using storage that has not been designed with proper security.

Aside from implementing security features as proposed by the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA), it is also essential to provide the highest reliability to protect related investments, as well as, ultra-low power consumption to promote sustainability. Different aspects of computing demand different solutions pertaining to bandwidth and memory-system capacity, regardless of the type of computing, such as local, cloud or fog (extending cloud computing to the edge of a network).

NAND flash memory system requirements for automotive, IIoT and Industry 4.0 are positioned between the industrial market (high reliability) and the consumer market (low cost, high volume), with both markets offering attractive opportunities. Crucially, however, neither has the necessary eco-system for these new markets, an essential ingredient XSR-FMC intends to develop.

Eco-system to create the right flash-memory controller

The XSR-FMC project will address the shortcomings of current flash memory controllers for two key highly demanding markets: IIoT and Industry 4.0. In particular, its goal is to build an eco-system to create, for those markets, flash memory controllers that offer: ultra-low power consumption; high reliability; and certifiable security for generations of flash memory to come. This will mean putting in place a development platform to build an eco-system to develop any kind of flash-memory controller. Crucially, the project consortium will deliver the necessary project expertise and experience.

As performance requirements increase, the high-speed, serial computer expansion bus standard called Peripheral Component Interconnect Express (PCIe) has constantly evolved and the PCIe gen4 standard is expected to strike the right balance between power and performance, alongside Non-volatile Memory Express (NVMe), a protocol designed to take full benefit of flash memories.

The technology used in flash-memory controllers are driven, on the one hand, by the evolution of NAND flash technology and their new requirements of error-correction coding, interface and flash-management features; and on the other hand, by the type of demand for memory systems.

Key requirements of the target markets (as defined in this project) are summarised as follows:

  • High reliability across large ambient temperature range (most likely -40°C to +105°C);
  • Extended lifetime;
  • Resilience to sudden power failures;
  • Ultra-low power;
  • Fast interfaces;
  • High security;
  • Industrial/Automotive packaging grade;
  • Diagnostic and support eco-system.

XSR-FMC will develop a demonstrator to ensure a rapid product ramp-up and time-to-market, and hence a better return on investment (ROI). The choice of interface will most likely be PCIe, but this can be revised, based on market changes. Notably, this interface will be flexible enough to adapt to, making only the host interface subject to change (although unlikely).

Added-value consortium

In order to offer a full NAND flash-memory system, the controller and memory must work symbiotically, which needs a very strong eco-system and relationship with flash suppliers. And the only way for Europe to successfully address those three markets is to join forces and foster partnerships. One way of achieving this is through a European project consortium comprising R&D-focused SMEs, research institutes and large manufacturing facilities, all capable of providing an ecosystem, a semiconductor product and platform, as well as, innovative, globally competitive intellectual property (IP) building-blocks. Importantly, several of these can be re-used and exploited independently in other future semiconductor designs, making them relevant to the ecosystem since they enable developments in semiconductor processes.

Furthermore, fostering cooperation between organisations that invest largely in R&D to develop state-of-the-art technology in their respective domains of expertise ensures the marketability of such a product. The consortium will also develop a reference design and packaging guidelines for a system-in-package (SiP) storage module, and deliver the necessary expertise to build a successful supply chain.

There are direct benefits for the entire consortium. XSR-FMC will provide project partners opportunities to address additional markets and applications outside their normal fields of operation. And relationships developed in this project could also trigger new opportunities.


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